Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Grand Ayatollah Plouffe





At the start of the film Julia, Jane Fonda (playing Lillian Helman in a performance that won her the British Academy of Film and Televison Arts' award for Best Film Actress, the film based on a story in Hellman's Pentimento) observes:
Old paint on canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent.  When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines:  a tree will show through a woman's dress, a child makes way for a dog, a boat is no longer on an open sea.  That is called pentimento because the painter "repented," changed his mind.
Ali al-Fatli has discovered something similar in Iraq.  Kay Johnson (AP) reports that the construction of an airport in Najaf has allowed a structure to emerge.  Buried under sand for who knows how long is a church that archaeologist Ali al-Fatli tells Johnson "is the oldest sign of Christianity in Iraq" and scholars believe it to be Hira which Johnson explains "was founded around 270 A.D., grew into a major force in Mesopotamia centuries before the advent of Islam, and reputedly was a cradle of Arabic script.  Lying 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Baghdad, it was lost to Iraq's southern desert for centuries after Christians were driven out of the area by Muslim rulers." 
Iraqi Christians have been targeted throughout the Iraq War and a population that once number millions now is less than half a million.  Open Doors USA reports:
An Open Doors contact in Baghdad emailed that, "Each hour the news [in Iraq] gets worse. The violence is unbelievable. Please pray for Iraq and the remaining Christians." A modern-day exodus of Christians is going on in Iraq. Sectarian violence has caused tens of thousands of Christians to flee since the beginning of the war. An estimated 345,000 Christians live in Iraq today; there were nearly 850,000 in 1991. Those who remain feel that the government fails to protect them from the recent wave of threats, robbery, rape, kidnapping, and church bombings. Though Northern Iraq -- an area commonly called Kurdistan -- has long been known as a safe haven for Christians, even in this region the situation for Christians has deteriorated due to Islamic extremism.
"The terror in Iraq recently is the worst in several years," continued the contact. "There have also been major Al Qaida threats to everyone, especially the Christians. After last week's violence, communication is terrible. It is not really possible to describe the devastation here in Baghdad. Over 100 have been killed. Security has been targeted…. We are used to bad problems here in Baghdad but the violence is just quite unbelievable; 12 car bombs, two suicide bombers on motor bikes. Scores of police and soldiers killed. We no longer have any security. While our people have not been killed, the injuries sustained to others are severe. There have also been new serious threats from Abu Baker Al Hussani, the head of Al Qaida in Iraq."
Catholic Online adds, "The most recent exodus began in Iraq as an indirect consequence of the Iraqi war. The exodus went into full swing after the horrendous massacre at Our Lady of Deliverance Church in Bagdad on October 31, 2010. This is the same massacre where a three-year-old child, Adam Udai, followed the terrorists around for two hours telling them to stop before they brutally murdered him. Adam joined his parents and approximately fifty other Christian martyrs that day, but his words lived on and were heard throughout the world (Adam, the Little Christian Boy Who Confronted Islamic Terrorists)."  The US State Dept breaks down religion in Iraq in a very superficial manner, "Muslim 97% (Shi'a 60%-65%; Sunni 32%-37%), Christian and others approximately 3%."  "Others" includes the decimated Jewish population.  Khaled Diab (Chronikler) speaks with Iraqi Jew Sasson Somekh:
Born in Baghdad in 1933 into a well-to-do, middle-class Jewish family, Somekh remembers summers spent swimming in and loungingby the majestic Tigris, the river along whose banks some of the first human civilisations were born. When temperatures soared and water levels dipped, a patchwork of small islets would emerge, providing ideal seclusion for family picnics, consisting primarily of fish grilled on a special covered Iraqi barbecue. "Those were the most enjoyable days of my life," he recalled wistfully.
At the time, Baghdad was a very Jewish city, with Jews – who were active in all walks of life, including commerce, the professions, politics and the arts – comprising as much as a third of the Iraqi capital's population. "When you walked down Baghdad's main street, al-Rashid, half the names on the shops and offices were Jewish," he noted.
Iraqi Jews were so enmeshed in their country's social fabric that they described themselves, and were regarded, as "Arabs", and viewed Judaism as a religion and not an ethnicity. As Somekh put it, he grew up with Arabic as his mother tongue and Arab culture as his reference point.
Another minority group would be the Yazidis.  Fryad Mohammed (AKnews and Ekurd) explains, "Mosul, capital city of Ninewa province in Iraq, near the border with Kurdistan region, lies 405 km north of Baghdad. The Yazidis are primarily ethnic Kurds located near Mosul. A Kurdish Yazidis are primarily ethnic Kurds located near Mosul. Some 350,000 Yazidis live in villages around Mosul near Kurdistan autonomous region border."   The Georgetown Journal of International Affairs notes today:
As misunderstood as Iraq is, there is perhaps no other group, and no other religion, more mysterious than the Yazidis. Simply mentioning the Yazidi faith to most Muslims in Iraq evokes an almost immediate condemnation of the "devil-worshipers in Ninawa" followed by a warning: don't trust them and don't eat their food.
An ancient blend of indigenous-Mesopotamian religion with strong Islamic, Sufi and Christian influences, Yazidism centers its worldview in the belief that after creating the world, God left its care to seven Holy Beings, the most eminent of which, and the central figure of the Yazidi faith, is called Melek Taus. Melek Taus is also central in Islam and Christianity, where the mystical Peacock Angel, as Melek Taus is depicted, was said to have refused to bow to the authority of Adam, which is the source of Islamic and Christian claims that Melek Taus becomes Satan. The Yazidis, on the other hand, believe that God first created Melek Taus in self-emulation, commanded him not to bow down to any other creature. This contradiction has fueled an age-old and inaccurate depiction of Yazidism as "devil worshipping."
As a consequence, the Yazidis have been the victims of hundreds of years of persecution and genocide, starting with the ancient Ottoman Empires and continuing well into the reign of Saddam Hussein. Their dwindling population, numbering roughly 500,000 in Iraq, is today only a fraction of its strength years ago.
While certain segments of Iraq's population decrease and dwindle, there is a new influx in the last weeks: refugees from Syria -- both Syrians and Iraqis.  Though Syria housed over a million Iraqi refugees from 2006 on, allowing for schooling and doing so without any aid from the Iraqi government -- though, of course, Nouri al-Maliki did announce that the Iraqi government would reimburse Syria and Jordan for the refugees, it never happened.  When the turmoil in Syria began resulting in refugees, Nouri announced that they could not come to Iraq.  Iraq, he said, couldn't handle the influx.  As the world's jaw hung open in disbelief and disbelief began to turn to condemnation, Nouri suddenly announced a policy switch.  Syrian refugees would be welcomed in!  But the living conditions he's provided for them have been less than hospitable -- and it's telling that he's placed then in the Sunni province of Anbar.  Omar Alsaleh (Al Jazeera -- link is text and video) reports on what awaits Syrian refugees who seek asylum in Iraq:

Omar Alsaleh:  They fled the violence in Syria, expecting a warm welcome in Iraq.  These refugees are now safe from the bombardments and the killings but they feel locked up.

Syrian refugee:  We became refugees and our country was destroyed because we demanded freedom.  But our freedom is now confisicated.  It would have been better if we had stayed in Syria.  We demand that the Iraqi government and NGOs take us out of here or takes us back to our country.  Let us die there.

Omar Alsaleh:  More than 3,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in al Kahim over the last two weeks.  They've been given shelter in 12 shcol. Aid groups, tribal shieks and residents of Anbar Province offer them food, some cash and basic needs.  But they want to be allowed to move.

That's the Baghdad-controlled Iraq.  The semi-autonomous KRG has been accepting refugees long before Nouri.  And Martin Kobler, UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq, has visited the camps last month.  Hoda Abdel-Hamid (Al Jazeera -- link is text and video) reports today from a refugee camp in the Kurdistan Regional Government:

Hoda Abdel-Hamid:  Rejin Hassan crossed into northern Iraq about a month ago.  She lived all of her life in Damascus but she was never considered a Syrian national.

Rejin Hassan:  We were considered foreigners but they have given us nationality so we are Syrian.  But I wish we had our region.

Hoda Abdel-Hamid:  So far Kurds have not joined the armed conflict.  They are Syrian's largest ethnic minority.  But many of them were never granted citizenship.  It's only after the uprising started that the government gave the nationality to an estimated 200,000 Kurds.  Ahmed and his family were stateless all their lives. They now hold Syrian i.d.s, but for Ahmed it's too little too late.

Ahmed:  This is a ploy by the [Bashar al-Assad] regime. They try to calm the situation down making sure we don't join the uprising. It's a game they're playing.  But in the end they will lose.

Lara Jakes (AP) notes that "at least 12,680 Iraqis" had returned in the last weeks from Syria.   RT notes, "Syrian state TV host Mohammed al-Saeed has been executed, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.  A militant Islamist group has claimed responsibility for the killing." This would be the Syrian 'rebels.' Those groups Kelly McEvers is always sobbing about on NPR while NPR pretends to be objective.  As Ava and I explained yesterday, Senator John Kerry has asked more questions of who the 'rebels' in Syria are than some in the media:

Chair John Kerry:  Well there's been as you know in the meeting in Paris and other meetings, Istanbul and elsewhere, very significant efforts to flush out who is the opposition?  I mean, do you know exactly who you would provide weapons too?

Andrew Tabler: Absolutely not.  But --

Chair John Kerry:  Don't you think we need to know that?  

Andrew Tabler: Absolutely. 

Ed Husain (Council on Foreign Relations) offers today, "The Syrian rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qaeda in their ranks. By and large, Free Syrian Army (FSA) battalions are tired, divided, chaotic, and ineffective. Feeling abandoned by the West, rebel forces are increasingly demoralized as they square off with the Assad regime's superior weaponry and professional army. Al-Qaeda fighters, however, may help improve morale. The influx of jihadis brings discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results. In short, the FSA needs al-Qaeda now."  In the midst of the turmoil, millions try to live their lives in Syria and that's not helped when the 'rebels' start targeting the media.  NPR reports an attack on a television building has left at least three people dead today (that was on their hourly news update so the link just goes to NPR).  Xinhua reports on that attack here. Yesterday, Anthony Khun (NPR's All Things Considered -- link is audio and text) reported on a group of Iranians the 'rebel' Free Syrian Army was holding and claiming they were some sort of military operatives (while the government in Tehran insists that they are pilgrims).  Shashank Joshi (Telegraph of London) observes, "Foreign powers did not invent Syria's uprising, but they are certainly helping it along. In recent months Turks, Arabs and Americans have embraced the rebel cause, pumping in a thickening flow of weapons and helping to discipline the once ragtag insurgents into a force that grows more potent by the day. " 


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